Blog of Pulitzer Prize Nominated Author, Jory Sherman. Get the latest information on his books, appearances and his candid reflections on writing.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


I have been studying the works of several writers, searching for clues to the trance-like state readers experience while absorbed in a book, story or poem. This has led me to believe that certain writers are able to induce this trance-like state through the use of repetition and the use of synonymous terms in a single portion of narrative or poetry.

Edgar Allen Poe was able to entrance readers with his prose and his poetry. The poem, THE RAVEN, is one such example of a poem that has the power to hypnotize the reader. THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH is a prose example that produces much the same effect.

Walt Whitman, through the use of repetition and “cataloguing” used the enormous power of language to lull the reader into a state much like that of a hypnotized subject. So, too, Allen Ginsberg, in his poem HOWL, and there are many other such examples.

Earnest Hemingway had his gift, as well, and he achieved the trance effect through the use of repetition, short declarative sentences and descriptions that used the painter’s techniques of perspective, light and shadow. Some of his descriptive passages are like impressionistic paintings and the colors produce shimmering colors that work magic on the human mind. His use of adjectives in his sentences increases the hypnotic effect. And, like Shakespeare, he uses odd combinations of words that have a mesmerizing effect on the reader.

I see other examples throughout literature, but the absolute master, or mistress, of this technique has to be Agatha Christie, whose books sold in the many millions, whose play, THE MOUSETRAP, may still be running, and whose appeals is still as strong as it ever was. Readers of Christie enter into that trance-like state which evokes sensations of pleasure in the brain, probably releasing endorphins into the bloodstream, so that her readers will return to read certain books because they derive so much pleasure from reading them. She used repetition and synonymous words to produce the desired effect in her readers. Her language, simple though it may seem on the surface, had the power to induce pleasure and plunge the reader into a trance that compelled them not only to finish the book at hand, but to buy others by the same author.

Those who study literature have a name for this kind of hypnotic writing.

They call it neuro-linguistic programming.

I have noticed this same process in some of my own writing and continue to strive to write at this same level, both in my short stories and in my novels.

Neuro-linguistic programming is an art, and it probably came naturally to such writers as Agatha Chrisie, Earest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Walt Whitman and others. In some instances, the technique came naturally to me, and I believe it has to do with the way I write scenes, especially those in which I wish to create a certain atmosphere. By using both repetition and synonymously connected words, I do seem to achieve that effect on the reader. And, I suspect that it also affects me during the writing of certain descriptive passages. Certain poets seem adept at creating trance states in the reader, and this is evident when one reads the poetry aloud. The meter is important, too, crucial in both poetry and prose. When the reader detects, either consciously or subconsciously, a rhythm to the writing, he or she falls easily into a trance. That trance translates into control of a reader’s mind, drawing the subject back again and again to the author’s works.

While much of this may be conjecture, I know that I can now recognize neuro-linguistic patterns in a writer’s work, including my own. My studies may not be scientific, but they are intriguing and certainly seem to elevate the quality of writing. Language is a powerful tool, and these studies of neuro-linguistic programming may be on the tip of the iceberg in understanding what readers want and need from a writer.

If one can hypnotize a reader with the power of language, and we know this is possible, having been used by propaganda writers since the invention of the printing press, then the quality of writing should improve to the point where readers are made, not born, and the storyteller is the one-eyed being in the land of the blind.

It’s all about language.

And language is what I care about when I write and speak.

Language is the only immortal thing on this earth. It survives in its many forms through wars and catastrophes. It may survive in pictographs, the spoken word, in paintings, sculptures, music and mathematics. But, it survives, some way or another, and for that, we do have proof.

We read the works of writers who give us pleasure, whether we realize it or not.

The good writers are most often good readers.

And we all still have much to learn.